#LifeSubtitled is a hashtag for this year’s Chicago International Film Festival—and it’s an appropriate one because the festival brings dozens of films from other countries to Chicago screens that we might not otherwise be able to see.
Since the beginning of film, the festival program notes, subtitles, intertitles and captions have helped break down barriers, connecting audiences with images. And so it is with two of the reviews we bring you today—brief reviews of films from Indonesia and South Korea. Watch this space for more dispatches this week, as we bring more recaps of films, both international and domestic.
Decision To Leave
The masterful South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Old Boy, Thirst, Stoker, Handmaiden) brings us a unique brand of film noir that is also a deeply felt love story, Decision To Leave, the winner of the Best Director prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. After the particularly gruesome death of her husband while mountain climbing, the not-so-weeping widow Seo-rae (Tang-Wei) piques the interest of a top detective, Hae-joon (Park Hae-il), who considers her the case’s prime suspect. But over the course of staking out her apartment and a handful of in-person interviews with Seo-rae, the investigator begins to develop feelings for her, even though he is married, and she might be a murderer. The filmmaker treats the relationship between the two leads seriously and not just as a product of lust, and both seem willing to forego their best interests in the name of love. He may overlook her guilt, while she might be on the verge of allowing the full truth about her life to come out. Decision To Leave uses time jumps and flashbacks with such piercing precision, without skimping on the beautifully executed police procedural material or the femme fatale’s appealing ways. The film’s reveals and gut-punch conclusion were enough to convince me this one is a masterpiece. Some may get lost in the intricacies of the plot machinations, but the knockout performances and crisp writing by Park and Seo-kyeong Jeong make this film one of the finest of the year. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens at 8:15pm today, October 17, at AMC River East.
Before, Now & Then
This beautifully photographed Indonesian film, set in 1966, is the story of Nana (the magnificent and elegant Happy Salma), who’s married to an older man. She finds he’s having an affair with Ino (Laura Basuki), a tradeswoman who occasionally cares for Nana’s daughter. Nana is repressed and lonely in her marriage and, midway through the film, discovers that her first husband, who she thought was killed in the anti-communist purge, is alive; they meet and realize they still are very much in love. She also befriends Ino; the conversations between the two women illuminate the role of women in that period.
Writer-director Kamila Andini creates this romantic melodrama with delicacy. It’s a slow moving, dreamy film and time settings are sometimes not clear, as the film’s title suggests. The rural setting in West Java features some exquisite forest scenes. The film is inspired by a novel by Ahda Imran, which told the true story of the life of a West Java woman named Raden Nana Sunani.
Beyond the beautiful cinematography and Nana’s story of loneliness is the shadow of the genocide perpetrated in Indonesia in 1965-66. Radio broadcasts throughout the film report on political change; these broadcasts remind us of Indonesia’s bloody recent history. You may remember the 2012 award-winning documentary, The Act of Killing, by Joshua Oppenheimer, who conducted horrific interviews with some of the individuals who participated in these mass killings. (Nancy Bishop)
The film screens at 8pm Wednesday, October 19, and at 5:45pm Thursday, October 20, at AMC River East.
Award-winning theater director Lila Neugebauer makes her feature film debut with Causeway, a fragile story about the importance of friendship in the face of personal crisis. The film also marks the return of Jennifer Lawrence in a lead role (yes, we’re all going to pretend last year’s Don’t Look Up never happened) as Lynsey, a young soldier wounded badly in Afghanistan and suffering from a serious head injury that is making her road to recovery a tough one. In her mind, all of the struggle is worth it because she wants to deploy again, but her doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson) is fairly certain that’s never going to happen. Once she’s discharged from the hospital, she ends up moving back in with her mother (Linda Emond), who drinks more than she should and has a tendency to bring her boyfriend over when Lynsey needs sleep.
While working for a pool-cleaning service, she makes friends with local auto mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry), who has his own burden from the past that he must deal with if he wants to move on with his life. And once the ground rules are established between the two (for starters, Lynsey is a lesbian), the two find ways to lean on each other in times of need and eventually form a trusting bond that is tested and strained constantly. First-time screenwriters Luke Goebel, Ottessa Moshfegh and Elizabeth Sanders find quiet, subtle ways to portray this tentative partnership that make it feel authentic and enviable (there’s nothing I wanted more after seeing this film than for James to be my friend too). Neugebauer finds ways to incorporate New Orleans into the lives of her characters, and the result is an experience that feels like an expanded theatrical piece, if only because its intimacy is so effective and heartfelt. (Steve Prokopy)
The film screens at 8pm today, October 17, at AMC River East.